Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory neatly offered an outlook for the 2014-15 season.
“In some ways, with some of the guys we lose, we’ve got to figure out ways to become better,” he said. “And I think we’ll do that.”
A small matter was that he spoke those words in March, two months before forward Robert Carter, his best returning player, decided he would transfer. From a team that finished 16-17, the Yellow Jackets have lost their best defender and post player and a superior passer (Daniel Miller), their leading scorer, top assist man and arguably their most clutch player (Trae Golden), their energetic post man (Kammeon Holsey) and now Carter, who would have been the focal point of the Jackets’ offense and would have been counted on to be one of the best rebounders in the ACC and a shot-challenging interior defender.
Figuring out how to become better, or even to not fall back, will rely heavily on the development of who Tech brings back and the infusion of transfer talent.
Of the first, Tech has four returnees who played significant minutes — forward Marcus Georges-Hunt and Quinton Stephens and guards Corey Heyward and Chris Bolden. Georges-Hunt, the leading returning scorer (11.7 points per game) and rebounder (4.3), will be challenged to make gains in both areas as well as to provide leadership to a group that likely needs to keep its morale in the wake of Carter’s transfer.
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One way he’ll have to improve is his ability to finish at the basket. His strength and ballhandling enable him to drive to the rim, but drives often resulted in difficult shots where passing or continuing his dribble might have been more effective choices.
“We call it the ‘not done yet’ game, where he comes in and now maybe pump fakes and spins and takes a turn shot or does a step-through move, or the little hand shot that you take,” Gregory said. “He needs to work on that stuff.”
Bolden will need to hone the 3-point stroke that abandoned him at times last season. Heyward, whose playing time and effectiveness increased as he recovered from two torn ACLs, can continue to improve his quickness and explosion while losing some weight. Stephens has shooting touch, but often was physically overmatched as a freshman. More strength and weight — he played with about 185 pounds on his 6-foot-9 frame last season — will be necessary.
Among the new pieces, or relatively new, perhaps the most significant is forward Robert Sampson, who sat out last season following his transfer from East Carolina, where he averaged 9.1 points and 9.2 rebounds per game as a junior. According to Gregory, Sampson — the son of basketball legend Ralph Sampson — blocked as many shots as Miller did in Tech practices.
“That doesn’t mean he’s going to do the same thing in a game — he’s 6-foot-9 — but he brings a lot of energy out there,” Gregory said. “He’s an extremely explosive athlete, has a really good skill package, and he got better and stronger this year.”
Guard Travis Jorgenson will return after tearing his ACL in the fourth game of the season. Before the injury, Gregory expected Jorgenson would play up to 25 minutes per game as a freshman. His ability to make plays for teammates will be critical for a team that will again be challenged to score.
Another is incoming freshman guard Tadric Jackson, who was The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s state player of the year after leading Tift County to the Class AAAAAA state title.
“I don’t think there’s any question that Tadric can make an impact right away,” Gregory said.
At least one more transfer, guard Josh Heath from South Florida, is expected to have immediate eligibility as a hardship case and should have a key role, and Gregory continues to fish the transfer pond. He will have players who could contribute. The degree to which they will and the number who do will be defining.